Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Warner Music Group Walks Away From Digital Start-Ups Lala and Imeem, Loses $33 Million

victrolaIt’s par for the course for big music labels to boast about their digital music sales as their CD sales tank. And that’s just what Warner Music Group (WMG) did that this morning, pointing out that its digital revenue was up six percent this quarter.

Less boast-worthy: Warner has written off almost all its investments in lala and imeem, two digital music start-ups it once thought would help save it from the slump in CDs.

In 2008, Warner invested $20 million in and $15 million in Now the label is taking a $33 million charge on the two start-ups.

The company’s 10-Q, filed this morning, spells it out: It wrote off $16 million in imeem–its entire investment–and half of its investment in lala. It also threw away $4 million via a “receivable write-off” related to imeem–that is, the start-up owes Warner money the label doesn’t expect to see again.

This appears to explain why Warner wasn’t bothering to renegotiate its streaming rights deal with imeem earlier this year even though it owned an equity stake in the company: It looks like the label had already concluded the company wasn’t worth saving. UPDATE: A person familiar with the situation says Warner may yet hammer out a new agreement with imeem.

Asset write-downs–acknowledgements that the stuff you bought back in the boom is worth a lot less now–have been par for the course for big media companies following last fall’s crash. If anything, Warner is a little late to the game here–many of its peers took their lumps last quarter.

But it is unfortunate for imeem, which has just raised an emergency funding round–something in the single-digit millions, I’m told–and is still out trying to land more cash.

For the record, Warner said music sales were down 17.6 percent in the last quarter and that the company lost 45 cents a share on revenue of  $668 million. Analysts had been looking for revenue of $730 million. Warner attributed a loss of 22 cents a share to the write-downs.

And as far as Warner’s digital revenue goes, that six percent increase is worrisome since it shows continued deceleration: A year ago, digital revenue had increased 48 percent over the previous year. And Warner’s digital total was up just one percent over the previous quarter.

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— Gitesh Pandya of comments on the dreadful opening weekend box office numbers for “The Fifth Estate.”